In the contemporary world, politics and governance play an integral role in the society as they set the foundations for its normal functioning and oversee such essential aspects as economics, business, legal affairs, international relations, and social policies, among others. Apparently, this statement is true for the so-called Western society and developed countries that are characterized by the presence of similar political systems and adherence to particular determined forms of government. These countries may be defined as democracies, monarchies, constitutional monarchies, or totalitarian regimes, but all of them are deemed to be comprehensible and familiar for modern people. In contrast, societies that do not employ this system of political governance and economic relations are considered to be primitive and underdeveloped. Thus, it is crucial to study them as a unique phenomenon that can contribute to the understanding of how the humanity used to leave before becoming civilized, industrialized, and globalized. For a modern person, it is difficult to imagine life in a society that holds no elections, lives without the internet, does not post photos on various social media platforms, and does not have to choose between fashion brands. Furthermore, it is hard to imagine life when no one is obsessed with human rights and elimination of discrimination, follows scandals and notorious court cases, and is engaged in other typically modern activities of the daily routine.
However, the lack of all these and other features does not automatically mean that a society is uncivilized or underdeveloped. In fact, such society is merely different from the one that the overwhelming majority of the planet’s population is used to in daily life. In fact, this different society may be much happier and more satisfied with life that is not filled with obsession over monetary values and political status. Hence, the current paper is aimed at providing a brief comparative analysis of three different peoples that deviate from the traditionally modern view on the civilized people. These three peoples include the San Bushmen hunters and gatherers from the Kalahari Desert of Southern Africa, the Yanomamo tribe from the Amazonian jungles of Central South America, and an ancient Hindu town in rural South India. They will be compared from the perspective of their political leadership. Moreover, prior to conducting the comparative analysis, it may be hypothesized that the San Bushmen people and the Yanomamo tribe may have much in common since they represent the society comprised primarily of hunters and gatherers. In turn, the South Indian Hindu town will significantly differ from the other two peoples and will have much in common with the traditional Hindu system of political governance and social stratification.
It is supposed that political leadership is greatly influenced by economics and business relations, but this is true for modern capitalist societies where leaders are often dependent on donations and goodwill of large businesses, as well as on market conditions that dictate social and political development of the society on the whole (Gowdy, 2011). It is evident that even in democratic countries, people are divided into social classes and, as a rule, the ruling class, i.e. political leadership, is comprised of representatives of higher social classes with the most access to educational, economic, and political opportunities. Undoubtedly, there are examples of outstanding individuals rising from extreme poverty and unprivileged background to the highest governmental positions; nevertheless, such examples are quite rare and represent a deviation from the norm rather than the norm itself. However, the so-called indigenous peoples like the San Bushmen and the Yanomamo do not have a prominent system of social and political stratification and may be deemed as truly egalitarian societies.
Hence, “inequality as a result of human nature is another side of the cultural myth of economic man,” and it is absent from the overwhelming majority of hunter-gatherer societies (Gowdy, 2011). The reason is that all representatives of hunter-gatherer societies with economies based on immediate return (societies based on delayed return may be drastically different in this respect and hereinafter are excluded from the analysis) are equal and egalitarian with respect to power, including political power, prestige, and wealth (Woodburn, 1982). The San Bushmen are truly representative of this type of the society, while the Yanomamo tribe differs in some respects, but comply with the description provided below.
Thus, hunter-gatherer societies with the immediate-return economy enjoy all kinds of equality, including the one in terms of political power and leadership, and are “assertively egalitarian” (Woodburn, 1982). The word assertively means that they realize that some individuals may try to seize power or wealth and rule over the entire tribe, but they actively resist such attempts and promote equality as they believe that all tribe members should be equal. Thus, this equality is achieved due to members’ individual and direct access to resources needed for sustenance and living, the lack of the monetary system, and procedures that promote sharing and prevent accumulation. Moreover, it is possible to obtain equality through lack of dependence among people as well as “through direct, individual access to means of coercion and means of mobility which limit the imposition of control” (Woodburn, 1982). Hereby, these societies are egalitarian as “individuals have no real authority over each other” (Woodburn, 1982).
In the San Bushmen tribes, all decisions are made collectively, and people decide to move all together. The society is marked by respect toward each other and truly egalitarian status of all members. In these tribes, there is either no leader at all or there is a nominal leader who in fact holds no real power over other individuals. In case there are leaders, they are prevented from accumulating wealth or acquiring prestige, as well as from exercising any essential authority and making decisions on behalf of the entire tribe (Woodburn, 1982). Thus, leaders are merely well-known individuals respected for their knowledge or some particular skills, but they are not leading their people in the conventional sense of the word nor can they serve as representatives of their tribes. Therefore, most decisions made by the San Bushmen are individual or negotiated by the entire tribe so that they can become collective. Discussions relating to significant decisions are sporadic, and nominal leaders play virtually no role in these discussions that would differ somehow from that of other tribe members. Generally, older men who have large families and have been known in the tribe for their wisdom and skills may have more influence on collective decisions than others. The reason they enjoy influence is that their extensive family members are likely to follow their advice and that they are known for their wise decisions in the past. However, they are not political leaders as they hold no political power and cannot represent the tribe in any negotiations with other tribes or foreigners. Therefore, the San Bushmen peoples are assertively egalitarian and in case they have leaders, these leaders play limited roles and enjoy no political power. Furthermore, this egalitarianism extends to gender relations, and men and women are deemed equal in the people under consideration (Morris, 2007). Although there is some gender division in work duties and household duties, it is highly logical and is more dependent on physical constraints and benefits of the sexes rather than on gender discrimination (Morris, 2007). Undoubtedly, men tend to perform more hunting duties in terms of subsistence as well as being responsible for making hunting tools, while women are responsible more for gathering and child rearing (Lee, 1979). Nonetheless, in terms of decision-making, men and women are equal in the San Bushmen tribes.
In turn, the Yanomamo tribe slightly differs from the Sun Bushmen hunters and gatherers, even though the two peoples belong virtually to the same type of the society in terms of economic production. However, the Yanomamo tribe engages not only in hunting and gathering but also in gardening and trade, which limits its mobility opportunities and requires a slightly different form of social organization and governance (Chagnon, 2013). Moreover, social life and political leadership of the Yanomamo differ from those of the San Bushmen, which is explained by their different histories, traditions, and geographical locations. Hence, the Yanomamo live mostly in villages that engage in the intervillage warfare, which may be extremely bloody and cause a high death toll rising up to at least one-fourth of the male population (Chagnon, 2013). In fact, these are not ritualistic wars, and they require superb warriors with extensive experience and leadership qualities to lead a group of warriors into battle. Thus, the Yanomamo have military leaders among male warriors that become such due to their warring skills and competences. Nevertheless, leaders are not chosen and have to earn their status, while they can easily lose it.
Moreover, warriors-leaders are not always political leaders of villages. The Yanomamo choose some distinguished individuals as their headmen that are responsible for keeping order in villages and determining relationships of one village with other villages (Chagnon, 2013). Due to the abundance of military conflicts between villages, political leaders usually have a reputation of being “waiteri: fierce” and are distinguished by their immense charisma, wisdom, and personal wit (Chagnon, 2013). They are also good warriors and politicians in terms of negotiating good trading deals and political marriages for their people. At the same time, they have to be skillful peacemakers and to be respected by all villagers. However, they are not above common villagers. On the contrary, they may be deemed as “‘greaters’ among equals” as they perform ordinary daily tasks like hunting, gathering wild plants for food, clearing gardens, and planting crops, among others in addition to their duties of political leaders and chief warriors (Chagnon, 2013). Furthermore, it should be noted that the Yanomamo tribes differ in terms of leadership styles adopted by their political leaders. Hence, some leaders are highly competent and respected for their skills and deeds, but they are at the same time quiet, mild, and inconspicuous most of the time (Chagnon, 2013). They rarely interfere in routine life of the tribe, but people listen to them and follow their orders without questioning. In fact, other political leaders tend to be despotic, violent, unpleasant, pushy, and tyrannical (Chagnon, 2013). They are likely to shout and beat wives or weaker males in addition to being extremely violent (Chagnon, 2013). Such leaders are common for tribes that engage in intense and frequent wars with other villagers and need a strong despotic warrior to lead them, but more peaceful tribes rarely choose such men as leaders (Chagnon, 2013). As in any other society, various Yanomamo tribes have different leaders varying across the continuum of the two above described styles.
Political leadership of the Hindu town in Southern India greatly differs from the one in the two peoples described above. All relations within the traditional Hindu society are based on caste division of the society. Moreover, religious, political, social, and economic relations are tightly interwoven and cannot be clearly separated. From the economic perspective, the Hindu town is marked by the jaimani system that not only governs division of labor among casts but also testifies to the political leadership of this people (Gould, 1986). Leaders and employers originate from the caste called “Twice Born”, and representatives of this caste are considered to be clean as they avoid performing the “unclean” work, which is left for the “unclean castes” (Gould, 1986). Since intermarriages between the castes are forbidden, no individual with the unclean caste background can rise to the position of a political leader. “Absolute inequality” is a basis of all social and economic relationships in the Hindu town (Gould, 1986). Political leadership is mostly performed by the Council of Elders called “the Gaon Panchayat” that governs social life of the town and insures that vital contacts with outsiders are maintained as well as introducing formal social mechanisms “capable of reconciling the urge to avoid social intercourse for religious reasons with the need to establish and maintain it for instrumental reasons” (Gould, 1986). Thus, political leaders are primarily tasked with a duty of insuring that representatives of different casts can productively and peacefully coexist, while maintaining economic relations vital for the functioning of the community on the whole. At the same time, many political leaders are heads of kins and jaimans or patrons that provide their purjans with employment and access to crops in exchange for some services rendered by the latter (Gould, 1986). Such division of the society is upheld by the political leadership, but the community of the Hindu town supports it as well due to religious and economic reasons.
Withal, the above analyzed three peoples differ significantly in terms of their political leadership, even though the San Bushmen and the Yanomamo tribes share some features in common in this respect. The San Bushmen people may be considered as the most egalitarian among the three with the absence of political leaders in the conventional meaning of the term. These tribes either have no leaders or their leaders are nominal in nature and hold no power and authority over other individuals. In turn, the Yanomamo have political leadership as tribes live in villages and rarely lead the mobile style of living. Therefore, they need leaders to maintain order and govern their trading and intervillage relationships. Moreover, the Yanomamo are very fierce and bloodthirsty as they still wage wars against other villages, which is why they require leaders to lead them in wars and to insure the peacemaking process when necessary. However, there is no single leadership style accepted by all Yanomamo tribes, and each political leader differs from the other based on his personal characteristics and major features of the tribe he leads. Out of the three analyzed peoples, the Hindu town in Southern India has the most clear-cut and rigid form of political leadership that is based on the division of the entire society into castes. In fact, political leadership is often inseparable from religious and social leadership, which is a peculiar feature of this type of people. The most essential task of Hindu leaders is to insure that different castes maintain social and economic relationships necessary for functioning of the town and well-being of all citizens, despite their religious animosity and reluctance to intermingle. The overall analysis of the three peoples under consideration proves that they significantly differ from each other and from the Western type of political leadership. Nevertheless, they cannot be considered as undeveloped, savage, or uncivilized in any case as they represent complicated and elaborate social systems with unique economic, social, cultural, gender, and political structures.